The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Running the Numbers: Cowboys-Redskins Film Study

At DallasCowboys.com, I broke down the Cowboys’ 28-18 loss to the Redskins.

Deep Attack

The rate of deep passes (traveling 20-plus yards) to Dez Bryant increased dramatically over the second half of the season. It’s probably not a coincidence that there’s a positive correlation between Bryant’s deep targets and his success.

In the Cowboys’ last two games, both losses, Bryant saw only three deep targets, including only one against Washington. He caught all three passes for 122 yards and a touchdown. In 2013, the Cowboys will need to continue to get the ball deep to one of the league’s premiere play-making wideouts.

Gun Trips

On a second-and-10 play in the third quarter, the Cowboys ran a unique direct snap to Murray that gained seven yards. The play will probably be forgotten by most, but it was actually extremely unique in that it was the Cowboys’ first run from “Shotgun Trips” all year. That’s pretty remarkable when you consider that Dallas ran 131 plays from the bunch formation in 2012.

Many of the plays from “Gun Trips” were in pass-only situations (such as third-and-long or in hurry-up scenarios), but some were not. Actually, 39 of the snaps from “Gun Trips” (29.8 percent) came on first down. It’s difficult to tell if the strategy has backfired, but it’s one Garrett has employed for years; the Murray run was only the second out of hundreds of plays from the formation since 2009.

Go to the team site for the full article.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys’ game plan in Washington deviated from previous weeks

At Dallas News, I broke down the Cowboys’ play-calling over the final two weeks of the season.

Those three aspects of Garrett’s play-calling—deep passes, play-action looks, and first-down throws—were being underutilized early in the season. The stats showed the Cowboys could benefit from increasing the rate of each; Romo’s 116.9 passer rating on play-action passes ranks him fourth in the NFL, for example, and he’s historically been extremely efficient on deep passes. Although teams throw the ball on just around 47 percent of first-down plays, most could optimize offensive efficiency by passing the ball much more often on early downs.

For some reason, however, Garrett abandoned the game plans that were so successful for Dallas over their November/early-December run. Check out the rates of deep throws, play-action looks, and first-down passes during the Cowboys’ mid-season run as compared to the team’s last two games—losses to the Saints and Redskins.

Deep Passes (20-Plus Yards)

  • Weeks 10-15: 4.4 per game
  • Weeks 16-17: 4.0 per game

Play-action Passes

  • Weeks 10-15: 4.4 per game
  • Weeks 16-17: 3.0 per game

First-Down Passing Rate (Through Three Quarters)

  • Weeks 10-15: 62.9 percent
  • Weeks 16-17: 47.2 percent

Check it out at DMN.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs Redskins: Initial Film Study

At NBC, I posted a few notes from my initial Cowboys-Redskins film study.

Playing in Opponent Territory

Despite scoring just 18 points, the ‘Boys actually played in Washington territory quite a bit, running 47.5 percent of their offensive plays on the Redskins’ side of the field. That’s substantially larger than the 39.6 percent of plays Dallas ran in opponent territory on the year. Romo’s first two interceptions came in Washington territory, explaining much of the low scoring.

Going Deep

Romo threw 37 passes on the night, but only three—8.1 percent—traveled over 20 yards. One was the interception intended for Austin, another fell incomplete, and the final was a 23-yard completion to Dez Bryant.

Check out the whole post.

By Jonathan Bales

The Sportstradamus: Week 17 NFL Game Picks

In Week 16, I went 11-5 straight up, 8-7-1 against the spread, and 9-6-1 on totals. On the year, I’m 158-81-1 straight up, 122-111-7 against the spread, and 128-109-3 on totals.

Week 17 Picks

@Buffalo 23 NY Jets 20 (+3.5) (OVER 39)

@New England 28 Miami 20 (+10.5) (OVER 46)

@Cincinnati 24 (-2.5) Baltimore 21 (OVER 41)

@Indy 23 (+7) Houston 20 (UNDER 46.5)

@Tennessee 20 (-4) Jacksonville 14 (UNDER 42)

@NY Giants 30 (-7) Philadelphia 20 (OVER 46)

@Detroit 24 (+3) Chicago 23 (OVER 45)

Green Bay 24 @Minnesota 23 (+3) (OVER 45.5)

@Atlanta 24 Tampa 21 (+5) (UNDER 45.5)

Carolina 27 (+5) New Orleans 24 (UNDER 54)

@Denver 30 Kansas City 17 (+16) (OVER 42)

@San Diego 28 Oakland 20 (+10) (OVER 39)

@San Fran 24 Arizona 14 (+16.5) (UNDER 39.5)

@Seattle 24 St. Louis 17 (+11) (UNDER 42)

@Washington 31 (-3) Dallas 27 (OVER 49)

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys-Redskins Week 17 Previews

My latest Running the Numbers entry is a look at the Redskins’ offensive tendencies.

It starts with the running game.

Washington’s offense moves because their star rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III, is as versatile as they come. In many ways, Griffin lets defensive coordinators pick their own poison. If they play with two deep safeties, RGIII and fellow rookie Alfred Morris will gash them on the ground. If coordinators play with eight men in the box or, even worse, if they blitz, Griffin can beat them with his world-class arm; his record 141.8 passer rating against the blitz is evidence of that.

Averaging 6.6 yards per carry (YPC), the Cowboys can’t let RGIII get going as a runner. They’re going to need to find a way to stop Griffin without moving their safeties toward the line, though, or else they’ll be susceptible through the air.

The running game is the passing game.

For the Redskins, the success of the running and passing games are inherently connected, even more so than for other teams. Because Washington sets up the majority of their offense off of read-option looks, the offense’s ability to run the football is paramount in throwing the ball with some sort of efficiency. The Redskins’ 39.2 percent play-action rate is evidence of just how intertwined their running game is with their air attack. In comparison, the Cowboys’ play-action rate is just over one-quarter of that of Washington’s.

Head to DallasCowboys.com for the full article.

At Dallas Morning News, I broke down why quick passes could be the Cowboys’ best friend on Sunday night.

On the Cowboys’ crucial third down in overtime last week against the Saints, Tony Romo and Dez Bryant were unable to connect on a slant to extend the drive. The Cowboys were forced to punt, and they never saw the ball again.

On the day, Romo completed only three of his seven slants, producing a poor 42.9 percent completion rate that’s highly uncharacteristic for the quarterback. The slant has really been the Cowboys’ best friend all year; thus far in 2012, Romo has completed 51 of his 70 slants (72.9 percent) for 624 yards (8.91 YPA), one touchdown, and no picks—good for a 104.7 passer rating. Even against New Orleans, Romo’s three completions on slants went for 70 yards and a score.

Against Washington, it will be vital for Romo to connect on slants, particular to Bryant and Miles Austin. In addition to extending drives on third downs, slants and other quick-hitting routes could give the Redskins problems. Washington’s starting cornerbacks—Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall—haven’t been the best of tacklers this year. Actually, the duo rank last and fourth-to-last in yards-after-catch this year.

Read the whole post at DMN.

At NBC’s Blue Star blog, I presented a possible game plan for Rob Ryan.

Don’t bite on read-option plays.

The Redskins have one of the league’s top rushing games, averaging 5.1 yards-per-carry. In terms of expected points—the number of points a team can be expected to score at any given point on a drive—Washington has “gained” 37.4 on the year. That’s the best number in the NFL by a wide margin, meaning the running game has helped the Redskins score more points than it has for any other squad. To give you an idea of how outstanding Washington’s running game has been, consider that only seven teams in the league have totaled positive expected points from running.

Check it out at NBC.

By Jonathan Bales

Fantasy Football: How to Project Rookie Quarterbacks

At RotoWire, I broke down how to use rookie passing stats to garner value on second-year quarterbacks.

Earlier this month, I broke down how to project running backs and wide receivers based on their rookie stats. For running backs, yards-per-carry is surprisingly the best predictor of future success, even more so than carries or yards. On the other hand, rookie wide receivers with the best bulk stats—yards and touchdowns—tend to have the best overall careers. Intuitively, that makes sense; yards-per-carry is a relatively stable stat that’s a solid indicator of a running back’s talent, whereas yards-per-reception is extremely volatile and very dependent on a wide receiver’s team, skill set, and so on.

Moving to quarterbacks, the choice isn’t as clear. Sure, yards-per-attempt is an excellent indicator of talent, but rookie quarterbacks are also very dependent on their surrounding cast. Further, we don’t have the same sample size of rookie quarterbacks to study; only a handful play in a given season, compared to numerous rookie running backs and wide receivers.

Below, I broke down the career outlooks of quarterbacks based on their rookie yards, touchdowns, and YPA. The top quarterbacks in each category were measured by their career approximate value.

As was the case with running backs, efficiency trumps bulk stats for quarterbacks. That is, those rookie quarterbacks that posted high YPA have been more successful than those that have thrown for a lot of touchdowns and yards. Remember, approximate value incorporates bulk stats, but not efficiency. That means the difference between YPA—a stat that isn’t a function of AV—and yards/touchdowns in terms of predicting future success is actually even greater than the numbers indicate. All other things equal, you want to draft quarterbacks who were highly efficient in their rookie seasons.

Check out the whole post at RotoWire.

By Jonathan Bales

How Cowboys Can Keep Pace with Redskins’ Offense

At DallasCowboys.com, I broke down the Redskins’ offense and how Dallas can stop it.

Redskins’ Rushing Offense

At 5.1 yards per carry (YPC), the Redskins rank third in the NFL in rushing efficiency. Led by rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris, Washington is actually an even better rushing team than their YPC suggests. By breaking down all running plays in terms of the “expected points” a team can expect to score on a given drive before and after a play, it’s possible to account for specific game situations. A 2-yard run on first-and-10 is a negative for an offense, it decreases expected points, whereas a 2-yard gain on fourth-and-1 dramatically increases expected points.

Washington ranks first in the NFL in expected points added from their running game at 37.4, well ahead of every other team. To give you a sense of just how dominant the Redskins’ rushing attack has been in 2012, consider that only seven teams in the entire NFL have even created positive expected points with their running games.

Check it out at the team site.

And at NBC, I took a look at three key matchups for the Cowboys’ offense.

WR Dez Bryant/Miles Austin versus CB DeAngelo Hall/Josh Wilson

It’s almost a foregone conclusion that Bryant will have a big game this week. The receiver has now scored in seven straight games, including three contests with two touchdowns. Bryant’s 23.3 percent touchdown rate over that time is phenomenal. Meanwhile, Redskins cornerbacks Hall and Wilson have both allowed at least 9.55 YPA and a 93.3 passer rating. Wilson has yielded six touchdowns and Hall a 69.6 percent completion rate.

Perhaps more important, Wilson and Hall have given up 463 and 366 yards-after-catch, respectively, ranking them as the worst and fourth-worst cornerbacks in the entire NFL. With the size and run-after-catch ability the Cowboys have with Austin and Bryant outside, look for the rate of quick screens to continue to increase.

Check out NBC for the full article.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs Redskins: 3 Things to Watch

I apologize for the lack of updates in the past day or two. In addition celebrating Festivus, I’ve also been traveling. I’ll try to keep the posts coming for the rest of the week, but feel free to head directly to DallasCowboys.com, NBC, and Dallas Morning News to read my game previews.

Earlier today at NBC, I posted three things to watch for Dallas versus Washington.

Will Rob Ryan blitz Robert Griffin III?

When we discuss whether or not a defensive coordinator will blitz a quarterback, we normally assume a certain level of blitzing as a baseline. While the Cowboys obviously can’t simply sit back in the same defense all night against the Redskins, this game could be the closest we see a Cowboys defense come to truly not blitzing.

Rob Ryan dialed up only seven blitzes in the teams’ first matchup, and RGIII absolutely torched him. Actually, Griffin currently owns the best single-season passer rating against the blitz in the history of the NFL. Yeah, ever. Against 91 blitzes this year, the rookie has completed 69.2 percent of his passes for 1,028 yards, 11.3 YPA, 11 touchdowns, and one interception—good for a 141.8 passer rating. If the Cowboys find themselves in a position where they’re forced to blitz to try to create turnovers, they’re going to be in trouble.

Read it all at NBC.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys-Saints Film Study

At DallasCowboys.com, I posted my thoughts from the Cowboys’ Week 16 loss to the Saints.

  • It’s easy to look at the Cowboys’ 45-to-11 pass-to-run ratio and say that head coach Jason Garrett should have dialed up more runs, but I’m not sure that’s the case. It’s so tempting to criticize such a ratio because the Cowboys lost, but they were a weird bounce of the ball away from us praising Garrett for “sticking with what was working.” Tony Romo was on fire for most of the game, averaging 9.67 yards per attempt (YPA) over 43 attempts. As much as Drew Brees diced up the Cowboys’ defense, even he totaled only 8.42 YPA. Meanwhile, DeMarco Murrayran for just 3.63 yards per carry (YPC) on the ground. Remember, the Cowboys have historically won around 50 percent more often when they pass the ball very frequently in the first three quarters of games.
  • If you recall, Garrett called 45 passes and only 19 rushes (two of which were Romo kneel-downs) last week. That game against the Steelers was very similar to this one, except a remarkableBrandon Carr interception altered how we perceive the two games. In both contests, Garrett was extremely pass-heavy; with the way Romo has been throwing the ball lately, that’s a good thing. If we aren’t going to criticize Garrett’s play-calling in a victory last week (which we shouldn’t), then we can’t do it this week.

Read the whole article

I also did the same at NBC.

Prior to the game, I suggested that Garrett continue to increase the rate of play-action passes and downfield throws. We saw four play-action passes and five deep looks (thrown at least 20 yards past the line-of-scrimmage) from Dallas. Romo completed two of the play-action passes for 74 yards and a touchdown. He was even better on deep passes, connecting on three of the five for 118 yards and two scores. Against the Redskins’ porous 30th-ranked pass defense, it would probably benefit the ‘Boys to give Bryant a handful of extra deep targets on which he can win in jump ball situations, regardless of the coverage.

Check out the whole post here.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs Saints: Offensive Game Plan for Dallas

I posted a four-point offensive game plan for the Cowboys against the Saints in Week 16.

Attack the Saints over the middle.

Free safety Malcolm Jenkins was just lost for the season and replaced by Isa Abdul-Quddus. Paired with Roman Harper, the Saints may very well possess the worst starting safety duo in the NFL. Harper—who the Saints could very well use to cover Witten—has allowed 9.98 YPA on 62 targets this year.

Use DeMarco Murray as needed.

The Saints’ run defense is poor. Harper helps out by lining up within eight yards of the line on nearly half of his snaps, but New Orleans has still allowed 5.0 YPC this year—second-worst in the league. The Cowboys don’t necessarily need to run the ball often early on, but they shouldn’t have any trouble getting Murray going when they need it.

Check out the whole game plan at NBC.